Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Akinola's Gospel

The Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, re-hashes his "good news" in a devastating article in The New York Times.

Mark Harris offers analysis, and Fr. Jake has his take with lots of commentary.

Good news? I think Charlie Brown had it right with, "Good grief!"

Normally I don't like fighting fire with fire, but in the discussion at Fr. Jake's, it was enough to drive me back to some foundational passages of Scripture.

Like so many pieces of the current controversy in the Anglican Communion, this might be funny were it not so incredibly tragic. What really weighs heavy on my heart is how much this distracts from the realities on the ground in Nigeria, which include regular violence between Christians and Muslims, abject poverty, governmental corruption (juiced to some degree by American oil interests), and rampant AIDS.

article describes Akinola's "fixation" on homosexuality. Other leaders in Africa, including Archbishop Ngundane of Capetown, have confronted Akinola, exhorting him to use his position to articulate the real priorities of the African continent, but to little avail. Akinola, by feeding the media with his personal outrage over disagreements about human sexuality, has marginalized saner voices in Anglican Africa.

The way Akinola is behaving right now strikes me as dangerous. He appears to be allied with a growing movement of fundamentalism in major world religions, fundamentalism marked by a narrow, anti-modern/anti-postmodern worldview that denies our interconnectedness, reduces the world to simplistic divisions of good and evil, demonizes all opposition, scapegoats those least able to defend themselves, trumpets a triumphalist theology and, in the worst cases, cultivates violence.

That he foments anti-American sentiment is somewhat understandable, and his anti-colonialism slant is certainly justified. But he has a tendency to connect these sentiments with scapegoating gays and lesbians as well as The Episcopal Church, and then uses the excuse to justify his own cross-jurisdictional interloping in the Anglican Communion, and, along with his allies, working to hijack the agenda of the Primates' meetings to the detriment of more pressing matters. In short, he is hiding, his protests to the contrary notwithstanding, what looks like power grabs and prejudices behind a smokescreen of post-colonial victimhood.

Okay, so he threatens the English-American hegemony in the historic Anglican Communion. So be it. I've written before in this blog that there are some things that need to be permitted to mercifully pass, and a Communion built on myth or a sentimental notion of empire, commonwealth, and colonial rule is one of them. But Akinola appears to want something equally as colonial, if not tyrannical, to rise in its place. . . only someone from the Global South would be "in charge" instead.

By no means does he have to be converted to our point-of-view or theology. But an ounce of respect for The Episcopal Church's provincial autonomy wouldn't go amiss, surely, just as we respect the Church of Nigeria's. Instead, he has dismissed The Episcopal Church as apostate, irrelevant, and worthy only of ecclesiastical invasion. He seems to have attacked, rather than negotiated with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. He has used the Windsor Report's recommendations for his own ends, excoriating entire provinces with one recommendation as though it is Anglican canon law, and dismissing other exhortations in the report that don't suit his interests.

But, beyond his public support for legislation undermining essential human rights for gay and lesbian people in Nigeria, the real risk Akinola poses is to his own people. With each new stir of the sexuality controversy, and with each new insult and anathema for The Episcopal Church and gay and lesbian Christians, there is less time, credibility, and opportunity to work for and woo substantial aid and support for the thousands -- if not millions -- who are hungry, suffering from disease, and desperate for peace. These are primary justice and human rights matters that have implications for the work of the Gospel and Nigeria's place in a shrinking world and a global economy. Surely, even assuming homosexuality is a sin, there are greater priorities at hand in the world.

Finally, Akinola does not appear to be shooting from the heart of the Gospel at this stage. At least not the Gospel of Jesus Christ I have come to know. Even a "plain reading" of Scripture will bear me out on that. We need to stand up and articulate the core virtues of the Gospel -- charity, compassion, and justice for those who have none -- so as not to cede the Gospel of "Christ is risen" to a myopic agenda of prejudice and hunger for power. We lose that Gospel at our own peril.

That he is under unimaginable pressure from Muslim on Christian violence in Nigeria, I concede, but I sincerely hope there is more to Akinola as a Christian than we have seen. Ironically enough, +Gene Robinson placed himself before our General Convention for consideration and went to his own consecration under threat of death. Yet he is willing to remain in communion with those who most despise him. But heaven forbid that ++Akinola would learn something about Christianity from a man he dare not touch!

Perhaps he simply suffers a major PR problem. If I have mistaken him in small or great ways, God forgive me, and I will happily bear correction. But the pattern of bullying and spiteful polemic he continues to weave does not yet suggest to me otherwise.

Prayers be with ++Peter Akinola. As Mark Harris has pointed out, we may be watching him dig his own hole. How many more have to suffer needlessly before he stops?

Lord have mercy. . .


Anonymous said...


I saw you on Jake+ and had to read your blog. I agree about ++Akinola not reading the same Gospel we read. I live in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Luckily we're safe from Duncan due to an endowment. What Akinola wants is a thone.

I enjoy your postings.
God's Peace,and a blessed Christmastide.

Anonymous said...

My bro,

This is thoughtful and well-articulated. Thank you.

Padre Wayne